The dream of Linux as a major desktop OS is now pretty much dead, or so says Robert Strohmeyer writing for PCWorld.
So, what killed the dream? It's not that the OS is too geeky, or too obscure, it's DRM, or specifically, the lack of support for DRM.
User expectations have shifted dramatically in the past few years, and it's no longer acceptable for any PC to fail at basic media viewing. DVD playback and video streaming from premium sites such as Netflix are now fundamental capabilities that any computer should have. But the politics of the open-source world make that a nearly hopeless dream for Linux.
"I share the hope with everyone that free and open-source software will rise to meet the requirements of content delivery," says longtime Linux developer Jeff Whatcott, senior vice president of marketing for Brightcove, a company that specializes in online video streaming. "But that's not happening."
"DRM is not popular with the open-source crowd," says Whatcott, lamenting that the open-source community at large remains so steadfastly opposed to digital rights management technologies. Without those systems, commercial content providers have no incentive to embrace Linux. And Whatcott points out that even if the open-source community were willing to go along, the DRM arena is dominated by "deep, deep patent pools," making a free, open-source alternative unlikely anyway.
Yes ... but ... there are a few things worth pointing out.
First, did anyone really think that there would be such a thing as a "Year of the Desktop Linux" while Microsoft and Apple were in the game and had millions of dollars to throw at advertising? I didn't, and I don't think that anyone else who truly understands the ecosystem saw it happening either. Consumer operating systems are big business and the big players aren't going to roll over and play dead in front of Tux the Penguin.
Secondly, Linux isn't as bad at media as Strohmeyer makes out. Playing DVDs on distros such as Ubuntu is a snap. Sure, there's plenty of DRMed media that won't work on Linux, but there's also plenty of stuff that will.
Then there's Flash. Sure, Linux support isn't the greatest, but it's not bad either, and as the iPhone and iPad have demonstrated, no Flash support isn't the end of the world.
Finally, while Ubuntu is an excellent desktop OS, Linux has expanded beyond the desktop and onto netbooks, cellphones, set top boxes and a myriad of other random mobile devices. Think in broader terms that the desktop and it might already be the year of Linux.
It's not all about content consumption.